The 15 Best Cartoons From the ’90s, Ranked

Many who grew up in the 1990s remember waking up on a Saturday morning, grabbing that bowl of cereal, and getting comfy on the couch to watch cartoons. It was the same tradition as kids in the 80s had done, but by the ’90s, cartoons weren’t just restricted to Saturday mornings.

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Even coming home after school, cartoons were part of life for kids who grew up in the era. Not only were they great for younger audiences, but they had enough jokes to keep older viewers entertained. If you’ve been bitten by the nostalgia bug, these cartoons from the ’90s are great to comb over and pick up on all the things that went over your head.

Updated on July 21, 2023, by Hannah Saab:

The best ’90s cartoons will never die, not if today’s fans and creators have anything to say about it. This is evident in ongoing success of iconic ’90s cartoons like South Park, which recently aired its 26th season. Only time will tell what other ’90s classics will continue well into the 21st century, or which will receive revivals and get the modern treatment they deserve.

15 ‘Aaahh!!! Real Monsters’ (1994 – 1997)

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Aaahh!!! Real Monsters is set in a world where monsters lurk underneath cities and attend a school to learn how to terrify humans. Ickis, Oblina and Krumm, three young monsters that attend the school, are the show’s main characters.

RELATED: Creepiest Cartoon Monsters That Will Give You A Fright

With its slapstick humor, smart quips, and brilliant puns, the show is unusual, to say the least, and those who love it will find that its comedy will have them in stitches. It’s a series that’s both strange and delightful, full of surprises and fantastic creatures. With its twisted and grotesque characters that perfectly represent the realm of monsters, the show’s animation is visually striking and innovative. It may not be for everyone, but Aaahh!!! Real Monsters is a must-see for audiences who love strange cartoons.

Watch on Paramount+

14 ‘The Powerpuff Girls’ (1998 – 2005)

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The city of Townsville wouldn’t have been safe if it wasn’t for the Powerpuff Girls. It’s an understatement to describe just how much of a phenomenon these kick-butt superheroes were in the ’90s.

Among the most beloved of the cartoons of the ’90s, The Powerpuff Girls turned Cartoon Network into a household name and kicked off its first “golden age” or original programming; not to mention, they were a promotional powerhouse. The Powerpuff Girls were merchandised into everything, from backpacks to stickers. Though a subsequent reboot of the series was met with harsh criticism, the original Powerpuff Girls will forever stand out as one of the best cartoons of the ’90s.

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13 ‘Doug’ (1991 – 1999)

The cast of Doug

Doug would go on to define Nickelodeon’s early-’90s golden era in animation. In some ways, Doug was a ‘90s version of Charlie Brown, with the title character (Billy West and Tom McHugh) portraying characteristics of the Charles Schulz comic classic, though he did end up with the girl of his dreams, Patti Mayonnaise (Constance Shulman).

Doug was a slice-of-life cartoon that was related to kids who watched the show, dealing with being the new kid in a new town and new school, and dealing with such topics as bullying and self-esteem.

Watch on Disney+

12 ‘The Ren & Stimpy Show’ (1991 – 1996)

Ren and Stimpy looking excited in The Ren & Stimpy Show.

To this day, it is still a mystery how the cult cartoon The Ren & Stimpy Show got the green light from Nickelodeon execs. That’s because the cartoon could easily be an early precursor to the more adult-oriented cartoons that would come toward the end of the ‘90s.

It may be one of the old ’90s cartoons, but The Ren & Stimpy Show was revolutionary for sneaking in adult humor and mashing it up in a package aimed at pre-teens. The humor of the show was surreal and, at times, pretty dark, but that humor gleaned off many iconic moments from one of television’s most notorious “kid” cartoons.

Watch on Paramount+

11 ‘Rugrats’ (1991 – 2004)

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By the early ’90s, Nickelodeon was looking to make cartoons that would resonate with its audience. The cartoon that would change everything for the network was Rugrats, a show that revolved around talking babies and their misadventures.

RELATED: The Best Nicktoons, Ranked

While the premise was simple, it was a cartoon that kids could get into as well, with many relating to the problems the babies get themselves into, and the ups and downs of growing up. Rugrats was the flagship cartoon of Nicktoons until a certain sponge took over. Though SpongeBob SquarePants has supplanted Rugrats as the network’s premiere cartoon, this series still shows how relevant it is, with a reboot on Paramount+.

Watch on Paramount+

10 ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’ (1993 – )

Beavis and Butthead in Beavis and Butthead Do the Universe
Image via Paramount+

Beavis and Butt-head is a cult classic animated series that chronicles the exploits of the two titular socially inept, heavy metal-loving teenagers. With its crude and irreverent humor, as well as its quirky and goofy animation, the show is a masterpiece of absurdity.

Viewers can expect the series to have a uniquely sarcastic perspective on pop culture as well as a bizarre yet entertaining dynamic between the two main characters. It is not only a comedy, but also a critique of the typical adolescent experience and 90s culture. Beavis and Butt-Head is a show that will take audiences back to the 1990s and right into the heart of slacker culture.

Watch on Paramount+

9 ‘Hey Arnold!’ (1996 – 2004)

Helga, Arnold, and Gerald walking confidently and smiling in Hey, Arnold!
Image via Nickelodeon

Hey Arnold! chronicles the experiences of the titular boy, who lives in a city in a boarding home with his grandparents. Arnold is an inquisitive and adventurous young boy who is always chasing after new experiences and forming new friendships. Arnold navigates life in the city with each new episode, from contending with bullies and traversing the social hierarchy of school, to solving local mysteries and exploring new locations.

Arnold’s best friend Gerald, his love interest Helga, and his classmates are among the noteworthy characters in Hey Arnold!. Of course, Arnold’s relationship with his grandparents is a huge part of the show, since they provide him with a feeling of family and stability. With its endearing characters and engaging storylines, the series is both uplifting and nostalgic. Anyone who appreciates a good coming-of-age narrative should give this old ’90s cartoon a shot.

Watch on Paramount+

8 ‘Pinky and the Brain’ (1995 – 1998)

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One has to feel for Brain (Maurice LaMarche), as he could never fulfill his dream of taking over the world. That was the main premise behind Pinky and the Brain, a cartoon series running on The WB in the mid-90s.

Beginning its life as a skit on Animaniacs, Warner Bros. execs saw enough potential in the skit for it to be a series in its own right, and they were right. Along with Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain were essentially must-see cartoons once kids got home from school, enjoying watching his idiot partner in crime, Pinky (Paulsen), routinely ruin Brain’s plans for world domination.

7 ‘Animaniacs’ (1993 – 1998)

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One can imagine that, sometime in the early ’90s, a Warner Bros. studio exec thought of a cartoon that revolved around cartoons living in their iconic water tower. The show that would come to fruition was Animaniacs, which revolved around the Warner siblings; Yakko (Rob Paulsen), Wakko (Jess Harnell), and Dot (Tress MacNeille).

RELATED: The Best Animated Series For Adults, Ranked

WhileTiny Toons Adventures was more geared toward kids, the creators behind Animaniacs set out to make a cartoon in which the humor was geared more toward older viewers. The wacky, adult-centric humor is what won over fans, and the series ran for 99 episodes in the mid-90s. It would later become one of the lucky ’90s cartoons to get a revival in 2020.

Watch on Hulu

6 ‘Dexter’s Laboratory’ (1996 – 2003)

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By the mid-’90s, Cartoon Network was making a name for itself with its in-house produced cartoons, with one standing out from the rest: Dexter’s Laboratory. The show centered around Dexter (Christine Cavanaugh in Seasons 1–3; Candi Milo in Seasons 3–4), a kid genius with a secret laboratory that only his older sister, the somewhat dimwitted Dee Dee (Allison Moore in Seasons 1 and 3; Kat Cressida Seasons in 2 and 4), knew about.

The ease at which Dee Dee could access his “secret” laboratory and foil his plans raised some questions to the intellect of Dexter, which made the cartoon all the more enjoyable to watch.

Watch on Prime Video

5 ‘Recess’ (1997 – 2001)

All Recess characters
Image via Buena Vista Television

T.J., Spinelli, Vince, Gretchen, Mikey, and Gus are a group of friends that face the ups and downs of an elementary school in the classic animated 90s show, Recess. Fans may also remember its cast of hilarious and recurring memorable characters, such as “The Ashleys,” a gang of popular girls, and “The Kindergartners,” the school’s youngest kids.

The premise of the show is simple, as, during the titular period, the characters all delve into the drama, hardships, and excitement that come with their childhoods. Recess is a fun series that will remind viewers of the wonders of childhood.

Watch on Disney+

4 ‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ (1999 – )

SongeBob and Patrick laughing while riding a fish hook in SpongeBob SquarePants.

Nickelodeon didn’t know what was coming when SpongeBob SquarePants premiered on the network right after the Kid’s Choice Awards in 1999. What would follow after the series’ pilot would be the longest-running series in Nickelodeon’s history.

While many may argue that, like The Simpsons and Family Guy, SpongeBob SquarePants has long outlived its shelf-life, the series remains just as popular today as it did back in 1999, and with good reason. While maintaining its appeal towards kids, the series also dips its toes into humor that can make older viewers laugh as well.

Watch on Paramount+

3 ‘Courage the Cowardly Dog’ (1999 – 2002)

A monster, Courage, and Eustace in Courage the Cowardly Dog

At the tail end of the ‘90s, the Cartoon Network was hitting its stride with its originally produced cartoons, with Courage the Cowardly Dog becoming one of its most iconic. This series follows Courage (Marty Grabstein), a sweet but easily frightened dog who was abandoned as a puppy and was taken by the Bagges, which consists of the kind-hearted Muriel (Thea White), and her cruel husband, Eustace (Lionel Wilson and Arthur Anderson).

RELATED: The Best Animated Pets of All Time

Even though they lived in the middle of nowhere, strange things would happen around the home, which would cause Courage to find the “courage” to protect his family. While funny in a lot of ways, Courage the Cowardly Dog would be famous for its horror and sci-fi elements and is a remarkably fresh cartoon that has aged quite well.

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2 ‘X-Men: The Animated Series’ (1992 – 1997)

All characters of the X-Men: The Animated Series
Image via 20th Television

X-Men: The Animated Series first debuted in 1992 and continued for several seasons. The series revolves around the X-Men, a group of mutants with superhuman abilities who strive for peace and equality. With its legendary and beloved characters, the show offered an action-packed and thrilling take on the X-Men comics, that audiences at the time loved.

Even back then, the show set itself apart as a real animation masterpiece with its exhilarating storytelling and unique characters. Magneto, Apocalypse, and Jubilee were among the recurring villains and allies introduced to a wider audience through the series. It includes multiple episodes that dive deeper into the backstories and talents of various X-Men characters like Wolverine, Storm, and Cyclops. X-Men: The Animated Series is a must-see for comic book lovers and anyone who enjoys a good superhero adventure, thanks to its engaging episodes that aged surprisingly well.

Watch on Disney+

1 ‘South Park’ (1997 – )

The South Park boys having a good time at the movies.
Image via Paramount Pictures

If one thought The Ren & Stimpy Show was a cartoon more geared toward adults than kids, South Park took that concept and went all-in on its adult humor. You know the premise by now: the show revolves around four friends growing up in the small Colorado town of South Park and all the hilarity that ensues.

From the start, South Park strove to be a cartoon that was made for adults, with humor that definitely isn’t kid-friendly. That didn’t stop kids from watching it; and to this day, South Park remains a cultural icon for both adults and kids alike.

Watch on Max

NEXT: Nostalgic ’90s Cartoons You Definitely Forgot Existed

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